A day after three Air Mobility Command cargo aircraft dropped desperately needed food and water onto a mountain in northern Iraq, metro-east lawmakers stood united in their support of President Barack Obama's decision to launch air strikes against Islamic militants in that troubled nation.
The air drop of food and water took place over Mount Sinjar, in northwestern Iraq, where more than 40,000 Iraqi refugees have sought sanctuary from Islamist militants who had threatened to slaughter them.
A C-17 cargo plane from Charleston Air Force Base, in South Carolina, dropped 40 bundles of drinking water on Mount Sinjar, while two C-130s cargo aircraft assigned to the U.S. military's Central Command dropped more water and food, according to Mark Voorhis, an AMC spokesman.
About 5,300 gallons of drinking water and 8,000 ready-to-eat meals were supplied to the refugees, most of them members of the Yazidi religious minority, who have been threatened with genocide by Sunni militants fighting for the extremist Islamic State.
The Air Mobility Command is headquartered at Scott Air Force Base, near Mascoutah.
The cargo aircraft were escorted by two U.S. Marine Corps F-18 fighter jets. The air drops took place without incident, according to Voorhis.
"They were in that area for 15 minutes, and then bugged out," he said.
The humanitarian airdrops took place on the same day that U.S. war planes carried out air strikes against Islamic State artillery that had been shelling Kurdish military units defending the nearby Kurdish regional capital of Irbil.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, said he had been assured by the White House that no American ground troops would take part in the military action in Iraq.
Even so, Durbin cited concerns that centered on what he described as Iraq's descent into "chaos."
Durbin called on the Iraqi people to "step up to govern their own country in an inclusive manner and protect and fight for their own country. Ultimately, no number of American troops can solve these underlying problems."
Daron Steenbergen, of Trenton, an Air Force veteran who had been deployed to the Middle East during Operation Enduring Freedom, questioned Obama's rationale for air strikes in Iraq.
"They've been fighting for thousands of years," Steenbergen said of Iraq. "It doesn't matter. It'll go back to the same way it was."
U.S. Reps Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, Rodney Davis R-Taylorville, and John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, on Friday issued statements supporting Obama's decision.
"The U.S. cannot stand idly by and allow religious minorities to be persecuted," Enyart said in his statement. "A military effort to protect American troops and provide humanitarian relief is of utmost importance at this time."
Enyart, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, said he stands ready "to return to Washington D.C. at a moment's notice -- just as I did last year during the Syrian crisis -- should Congress be needed during this crisis."
Davis, in his statement, called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant -- a name the Islamic extremist group also calls itself --"a serious threat to the Middle East and the national security of the United States, so I commend the president for authorizing air support to provide both military and humanitarian intervention."
Shimkus said he supported Obama's decision because the "threat to innocent women and children plus religious freedom is cause enough."
But Shimkus took Obama and the Iraqi government for "shortsightedness" that created a void the Islamic State has moved to fill.
"I would ask the president, 'What is his plan forward?'" Shimkus said.
Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2533.